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'30 Rock': The most wonderful time of the year?

December 11, 2009 |  8:11 am
NUP_137697_0092 At the risk of provoking the wrath of Bill O'Reilly, I hereby declare a war on Christmas. Christmas episodes, that is. For some reason, the powers-that-be decide year after year that TV viewers simply must have them, but the truth is that holiday episodes are just never that good. Even on a smart, acerbic comedy like “30 Rock,” Christmas inevitably brings an awkward shift in tone: All of a sudden, everyone’s being nice to each other.

For example, this week had Jack and Liz trying to out-do each other in a gift exchange, a classic Christmas episode scenario.  Jack, it turns out, is a consummate gift-buyer -- the best in the world, says Jonathan. Liz, not so much. First she buys Jack an expensive maroon and navy tie, then she tries to write him a goofy song that sounds lifted straight from the “Juno” soundtrack. 

As always, Liz is a little bit hapless -- wearing a special red sweater when she wants to eat pasta with sauce -- while Jack has it all together -- he gets Jonathan’s sister freed from a North Korean prison. Despite the obvious Bill Clinton reference, I am beginning to wonder if, as some astute commentators have pointed out, this isn’t evidence of a conservative streak on the show. Liz the Liberal is always a little overwhelmed, and runs to Jack the Conservative for guidance.

Elsewhere, Kenneth goes through a crisis of faith when Frank et. al. pretend to be celebrating a made-up holiday called Verdukia so they can avoid taking part in the Secret Santa exchange. And here we have yet another Christmas television trope: the goofy, made-up holiday. See also: “Chrismukkah” or “Festivus.” It's a favorite device of TV writers, but I'm not sure why.

Kenneth makes every effort to observe Verdukian rituals, but Tracy spills the beans. And in the process, he sounds a little like a freshman theology major. “That’s what religion is, K-Fed. A bunch of rules made up to manipulate people. Why don’t Catholics eat meat on Fridays? Because the Pope owns Long John Silver’s.” This bitter pill sends Kenneth into a tailspin of doubt -- he even stops shaving and decides to buy "guitar music" -- but naturally, by the end of the episode, his faith is restored. Even on "30 Rock," no one's an atheist at Christmas.


Because no Christmas episode would be complete without a heavy dose of nostalgia, this week we see Jack reconnect with his high school crush, Nancy Donovan (played by Julianne Moore, who does a pretty wobbly Boston accent), after she “finger-poked” him on “You Face.” The two were castmates in their high school musical “Hey Beantown” and used to shoot BB guns in an old warehouse together. Ahhh, the good old days. Jack’s feelings are re-ignited almost instantly, and when Liz calls in a bomb threat to Penn Station, Nancy’s trains back to Penn Stations gets canceled. Does this mean we’ll see more of Nancy this season?  Presumably she can’t be around for too long, if news about Elizabeth Banks’ upcoming stint on the show is to be believed.

One cliche “30 Rock” did avoid in this episode? Liz got a terrible haircut last week, but it hasn’t magically grown out just yet.

What did you think? Are Christmas episodes always going to be a little cornball? And was Moore's accent a little off, or was it just me?

Best joke: Jack decides that the gifts he and Liz get for each other should be free. Liz thinks she’s got the win in the bag because she’s so creatively gifted, then she undermines this by awkwardly riffing, “Creativity to me… is like a bird…a friendly bird that shoots…. out of his eyes… all kids of beauty.” You kinda had to be there, but I laughed out loud.

Most meta moment: You had to stick around until the end credits for this one, but Jack gets Larry Wilcox to pay a visit to Liz, promising him an appearance on “Dancing With the Stars.” Liz breaks the news that that’s actually on ABC.

Jenna’s diva behavior: When she discovers that Danny sings with the voice of an angel, Jenna erupts into a spontaneous nosebleed -- or what she calls a “rage stroke.” 

Nerdiest reference: Liz made two pretty dorky revelations this week. Not only did she play John Proctor in a gender-blind high school production of “The Crucible,” she also wrote an autobiographical short story called "The Two Paths of Virginia Apple.”

Quintessential Kenneth: In his arrangement of multicultural holiday decorations, Kenneth includes a portrait of President Obama -- “for the Muslims.” 

Liz’s requisite junk food reference: Jack asks Liz why he can’t just enjoy his visit from Nancy while it lasts, and she responds, “That’s what I said when that hot-dog vendor passed out but you made me get help.”

Jack’s Republican talking points: OK, this might be a stretch, but when Liz does her terrible improvisation, Jack tells her “that was just like Hemingway….Mark Hemingway.” Was that a reference to National Review blogger Mark Hemingway? Given Jack’s ideological leanings, is that meant to be some kind of compliment? Alas, we may never know.

-- Meredith Blake


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Photo: Julianne Moore guest stars as Nancy Donovan on "30 Rock." Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC

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